Judge says Florida's 15-week abortion law is unconstitutional
By Steve Contorno, CNN
(CNN) -- In a setback for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers, a Florida judge has ruled that a new state law banning abortions at 15 weeks is unconstitutional and he intends to block it from taking effect on Friday.
In a verbal ruling on Thursday, Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge John Cooper said he would be issuing a temporary statewide injunction that will go into effect once he signs the written order in the challenge brought by some Florida abortion providers.
The decision is a short-term victory for abortion rights advocates in Florida and it comes a week after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated a constitutional right that had existed for half a century. Once Cooper signs the ruling, abortion in Florida will remain legal until 24 weeks into a pregnancy, making the state one of the most permissive in the south.
Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, told CNN in a statement that the state intends to appeal the ruling.
"While we are disappointed with today's ruling, we know that the pro-life HB 5 will ultimately withstand all legal challenges," Pushaw said.
Abortion rights advocates and Democrats celebrated the decision by Cooper. In a statement, Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said the law was "a gross interference in personal medical decisions that should be between patients and their doctors."
"Politicians like the Governor have no business restricting Floridians' health freedoms," he added.
In the short term, the decision will have far-reaching implications for women across the south, where so-called trigger laws -- bans designed to take effect with the overturning of Roe v. Wade -- and bans no longer in legal limbo are quickly halting access to the procedure. For years, Florida has been a safe harbor for women seeking abortion, and providers expect the state's 55 clinics will be busy with appointments for women from surrounding states where abortion may soon be illegal.
DeSantis signed the new abortion restrictions into law in April at an Orlando-area megachurch surrounded by women and children and cheered on by pastors, anti-abortion activists and other supporters.
The law would ban abortion at 15 weeks with no exemptions for women who become pregnant as a result of rape, incest or human trafficking. The law would allow for abortions in cases where a pregnancy is "serious risk" to the mother or a if fatal fetal abnormality is detected and two physicians confirm the diagnosis in writing.
About 75,000 of the 80,000 abortions reported by the state in 2021 came during the first trimester, meaning the vast majority of procedures will still be allowed under the new state law. Historically, Florida ranks among the states with the most abortions per capita annually, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The law directly challenged decades of legal precedent establishing abortion as constitutionally protected in Florida. The state constitution in Florida includes a right to privacy, which the state Supreme Court has long interpreted as giving Floridians the freedom to access abortion without government intrusion.
In his ruling from the bench, Cooper said the ban "violates the privacy provision of the Florida Constitution."
While the decision will delay the implementation of the state's new abortion restrictions while the case proceeds through the legal system, the expectation is that the state's conservative Supreme Court will have the final say. All seven members of the state's high court were appointed by Republican governors, including three selected by DeSantis. By the time the case makes its way to the state Supreme Court, there may be a fourth DeSantis appointee on the bench due to a recent retirement.
Pushaw said it is the argument of the state that the Florida Supreme Court "previously misinterpreted Florida's right to privacy as including a right to an abortion. We reject this interpretation because the Florida Constitution does not include -- and has never included -- a right to kill an innocent unborn child."
The dramatic shift of the legal landscape in Florida has left Democrats and abortion rights advocates pessimistic that the longstanding legal protections will withstand this challenge for long.
"We don't believe this court will see it the way other courts have," state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book recently told CNN. "Any piece of protection, that modicum of protection is gone."
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the time at which Florida's 15-week abortion ban will be halted.
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